Red Dragon Inn
Dreamweaver's Lair => From the Dragon's Mouth => Crash and Burn => Topic started by: Meg Miller on November 06, 2016, 12:15:30 PM
It is a peculiarity of the intelligence world that, when a mission in cover is completed - successful or not - the agents involved invariably find themselves pen pushing for a long time afterward. Most of the time, they find it an annoyance, but in this case ...
After the Spetses mission, the successful extraction and confirmation of connection aliases, Margaret Miller had been glad of a little time spent behind her desk. Time spent away from the confusion that was pretending to be someone else, in the company of a man who was also pretending to be someone else. The CIA agents had been whisked back to Washington within hours of their debrief in London, helpfully preventing any chance of AJ or Meg falling over themselves to avoid having that dinner they had initially expected to share.
A few weeks of trans-Atlantic distance, however, had done Meg's peace of mind a world of good. She had been allowed to settle into being Meg again; to separate out her own feelings from the simulated feelings of the aliases that had brought her into close proximity with AJ Doyle. And she had come to a conclusion that had startled her. She did have feelings for him - for the man, the agent, not the aliases he had worn for the majority of their time together. But acknowledging those feelings and acting on them were two very different things.
Unfortunately for her composure in the face of a vulnerability she had not had to worry about for years, the CIA and MI6 were so pleased with the way the Spetses mission had turned out that the two agencies had finally agreed upon a liaison officer - an agent swap, essentially, one from each agency, and Meg was the chosen sacrifice to go to Washington. With the support of her agency, she was transferred across the Pond within another week, settled into an apartment and provided with everything she needed. Just a few days later, she was walking into CIA headquarters without the first idea what she should expect.
Names on the other side of the Pond had been carefully considered, and it had come down to a choice between two agents - Doyle or Riggs. Neither agent had been asked for their opinion either way, and in the end, Agent Doyle had been almost relieved to learn Riggs had been chosen for the London position. But that was before he'd also learned that Riggs was being traded for Miller. He'd had one month to sort his feelings out and try to forget her, but as soon as she walked through that door, with all that blond hair and that doe-eyed expression, he knew he was in trouble. There was nothing to do about it, but suck it up or request a transfer. For the first time in his career, he thought he might need therapy. The only problem was he didn't think there was any cure for what ailed him. At least Agent Amanda Drew seemed happy to see her, along with some other agents who welcomed her and offered to show her around.
It was a relief for Meg, at least, to know more than one face at the D.C. office, and to be welcomed so warmly after her initial induction was definitely reassuring. She couldn't help looking for that one particular face, however, feeling an odd ache the longer he remained unseen. Amanda Drew, however, had her own ideas about how to make that reunion come about. It was after lunch when she lead Meg through the bullpen toward AJ's desk, tapping on the wood to get his attention.
"Doyle, you remember Meg Miller, right? She needs computer access - set her up, and no excuses, or I'll share that picture from the Christmas party last year." And just like that, there they were, trapped together after a month of trying to forget about each other.
Meg bit her lip, her smile shy. "Hello again, Andrew."
AJ scowled up at Agent Drew, who was in actuality a close personal friend, though Agent Miller was the one thing he had refused to discuss, even over a couple of beers since his return from what was now being referred to as "The Spetses Job", like it was some kind of action-adventure movie. "Everyone's seen that picture already, Nancy!" he called after Agent Drew. Everyone but Agent Miller anyway. It wasn't Agent Drew's real name, but a sort of nickname he'd pegged her with from the first day they'd met. "Hello," he replied, trying hard not to meet her gaze, though he was going to have to come to terms with her being here sooner or later. "Which desk is yours?" he asked, as he pushed to his feet.
Straight to business, it seemed, and for a moment, his brusque manner hurt. Meg hadn't felt that kind of hurt for a very long time, frowning as she glanced around at the bullpen, counting the desks to locate the one she had been allocated. It was directly next to his. "That one," she told him quietly, gesturing toward it.
Of course, it was right next to his. It was as if the universe was conspiring to throw them back together again, for whatever purpose. "How was your flight?" he asked, trying to pick a safe topic of conversation, one that wouldn't tear open wounds real or imagined, as he moved over to the desk beside his and pushed a button to boot up the computer.
"Interminable," she told him, her voice just as he remembered it, warm and friendly and beautifully English. "I was sat next to a woman who I'm sure is lovely on solid ground, but at 1500 feet for ten hours was overly chatty, even when I was trying to sleep." She chuckled quietly at the memory of that. "Nothing compared with the conversation of the taxi driver who picked me up at the airport, though. Does everyone strike up random conversations with strangers here?"
"Not everyone," he replied shortly. DC wasn't exactly known to be an overly friendly place, though he didn't think it was unfriendly either. It was the sort of city where everyone always seemed to be in a hurry to get somewhere, unless you were a tourist. Then, you were usually just in the way. But that was a cynical point of view, and he knew it. He also knew she didn't deserve it. If they were going to be working together, he was going to have to be at least civil. "They're probably intrigued by your accent," he reasoned further, hoping he wasn't being too rude by saying so. Her accent was intriguing, after all. It pegged her as being a foreigner, and a pretty one at that.
"Well, I have had a few people tell me how much they adore my accent, true," she smiled, perching on the corner of the desk comfortably. "My new landlady asked me if I knew a specific person who lives in Edinburgh, though, so it would seem that the general grasp of British geography is about the same as my grasp of American geography." She considered him for a moment, and spoke a little more sharply than she had intended to. "Are you going to look at me, Andrew, or is pretending that I'm invisible the new aim of your game?"
"Like the way you looked at me on the plane?" he countered - or rather, the way she'd avoided his gaze, avoided his company, until it was too late, and he had to catch a plane back to DC. "Never mind. Forget I said that. It's my fault, I know. I'm an asshole," he looked at her briefly before going back to the computer, tapping keys to get her set up with a user name and temporary password.
Her mouth fell open, about to apologize for her behavior before he cut her off. In the space of one sentence, he had managed to strike her dumb and prevent her from doing the one thing she had told herself she would do when she saw him again. As he looked back at the computer, she closed her mouth, steaming quietly at the sheer arrogance he displayed in taking the blame for her infractions. "I see," was what she eventually came out with, watching as he set her up on the computer network. It was the sting of being hurt by his curtness that motivated what she said next. "I apologize for being a nuisance. I had hoped to renew our acquaintance, but clearly since I am not allowed to apologize for my own behavior, I will evidently have to wait until you decide I am allowed to be a grown up."
"What do you have to apologize for? I'm the one that made assumptions. I'm the one who acted like a pompous ass while we were in Greece. I'm the one who ..." He broke off, taking a moment to look around the office to see if anyone was eavesdropping. What happened in Greece stayed in Greece, didn't it? What exactly had happened in Greece though? He'd had a month to sort out his feelings and now that she was standing there - Meg Miller, not Sarah, not Sophie - all he wanted to do was take her in his arms and kiss her. The hell was the matter with him anyway?
"I blurred the lines," she said quietly. "Not you. I'm the one who behaved unprofessionally and then failed to acknowledge it." She sighed softly. "But this is hardly the time or the place for this conversation, is it?" She paused, glancing at the computer screen briefly, and pulled a small notebook out of her pocket, scribbling something down on a blank page before pulling it out. She folded it once, and set it into his hand. "The invitation is open," she said, a little cryptically. "With no pressure."
"You?" he echoed, skeptically. He was pretty sure it was him who'd acted unprofessionally, who'd blurred the lines, and overstepped the boundary between personal and professional. It didn't matter anymore what had happened in Paris ... or maybe it did. He wasn't sure anymore. What mattered was that he could no longer deny that he was starting to care a little more than he should. He glanced briefly at the paper before shoving it into his pants pocket. "We could go for coffee, if you want." It wasn't dinner at Chez Andrew, like he'd promised, but it was a start.
"I'd like that," she agreed softly, nodding as though confirming her words. What she wouldn't give to be able to kiss him, to make him certain that she wasn't just humoring him or trying to make friends. But again, not the time or the place, and perhaps keeping the physical affection to a minimum would be good for a while. It would be nice to learn about him, and not just how he made her feel, this time around. "So ... this network," she said, turning her attention to work. "I assume this is integrated with the new international database?"
"Yeah, wanna give it a whirl?" he asked, moving aside so that she could have a seat at the desk beside his that was going to be hers. "I've got you logged in for now. We can change your password later. User name Siren. Same as your code name. I'm Ghost," he told her further, though she probably knew that already.
"Siren?" Meg laughed, easing down into the seat he had just vacated to log in under his directions. "I can understand Ghost, although I doubt you were codenamed for the movie." And there was the teasing side of her nature, showing up in the words and the flicker of a smile that glanced at him.
He shrugged, dragging a chair over so that he wasn't looming over her. "Wasn't my idea. I guess it fits ... sort of," he admitted uncertainly, though he hadn't done much stealth work in a while. Like her, he'd been tied to a desk ever since he'd returned from the Spetses job. "You read the dossier on Chandler? No wonder the Russians wanted him so badly."
She rolled her eyes. "To be honest, I'm surprised the man is still alive," she agreed. "Courting controversy is one thing, but succeeding at your controversial plan and keeping it a secret is a surefire way to get your entire bloodline wiped out." She leaned back in her seat as the computer went through the motions of identifying her from the log in. "The Russian government is not officially denying involvement at our end, but we're hearing through unofficial channels that they didn't have the first idea what was going on. Since Spetses, there has been a lot of traffic in and out of Moscow."
"You realize this isn't over. We might have to send a team to Moscow to investigate first hand." He didn't bother to mention whether or not he was a candidate for such a mission. A mission like that would make the Spetses job look like child's play.
"Possibly," she conceded thoughtfully, shrugging out of her suit jacket to be more comfortable. "Though there were rumblings in London of agents in Siberia locating what seemed to be a laboratory of some kind. No details forthcoming yet, of course, but the codes that have been crossing my desk over the last couple of weeks are unsettingly new."
"I'm sure we'll find out sooner or later," he replied, somewhat vaguely. "So, about that coffee?" he pressed, hoping to forego work a little while longer. At least, he was smiling now, with that familiar hint of a teasing gleam in his eyes. He'd let his hair and beard grow out over the last month or so, no longer looking the part of the playboy that had been Jake. He was AJ again, though the smile he flashed her lacked the usual charm.
"Now?" Meg didn't bother to hide her surprise - in London, the only break she would get in a ten hour day was her lunch hour. "They don't mind you wandering off to have a coffee away from your desk here?"
"Uh, no ... Don't you get coffee breaks in London?" he asked curiously as he got up from the chair and pulled it back over to his desk. He snagged a leather jacket from off the back of his chair and shrugged it on over his shoulders. "Come on. There's a coffee shop downstairs."
"We do, we're just expected to take them at the desk," she chuckled, shaking her head. Logging out, she rose from her chair, shrugging back into her jacket, and retrieved her purse from under the desk. "How do you know where you're going? This place is bigger than the village I was born in."
AJ laughed. "You get used to it, believe me. Just make sure you always have your pass with you, and you won't have any problems. If you get lost, just ask someone for directions." He smirked a little and leaned close to lower his voice for her ears only. "And don't tell anyone you're going out for coffee, or you'll end up having to bring some back for everyone. And I do mean everyone."
"I'll bear that in mind." Meg shook her head as she smiled, avoiding the knowing grin Amanda Drew was pointing in their direction as they passed between the desks. "I must admit, I wasn't expecting this place to be so sprawling. You've seen the MI6 building."
"It's America. Haven't you heard? We do everything big here," he teased. If the size of the country, which stretched from Pacific to Atlantic, was anything to go by for starters anyway. "Is this your first trip to the states?"
She bit down a very inappropriate tease, hiding it behind her growing smile as the tension between them seemed to relax. "It's my first official visit," she told him. "I came on a tour of the major cities when I was in training, to perfect the accents, but it didn't really give me much of a chance to see anything but hotels."
"You couldn't have learned the accents from a coach?" he asked curiously. It's how they had always done it, but then travel was expensive and had to be justified. "Well, you're in for a treat, then. There's lots to see and do here ... depending on what you like." He led her through the maze of desks and offices out into an area made up of hallways and elevators. "What do you like to do?"
She was relying on him to know the way, because she did not have the first idea how to get to and from that office, much less where the front door was. "I learned the accents from a coach, but it was part of the testing," she explained. "To pass for a local, if at all possible." A faint smile touched her lips. "I would have liked to have spent more time in Boston. I felt oddly comfortable there." His question made her laugh self-consciously. "I haven't had what you might call a dazzling life experience outside work," she admitted reluctantly. "Most of what I do is to pass the time while I'm alone out of hours. Not exactly thrilling."
"Oh, come on ... Everyone likes to do something," he said, leaning forward to punch the elevator more times than was necessary, but hey, he wanted to make sure he didn't have to wait a half an hour for the damn thing to arrive. Their so-called coffee-break was only supposed to be fifteen minutes long, but it would likely take that long just to get through the queue. "What did you like to do before you became an agent?"
It was a little depressing just how hard she had to think to come up with an answer to that, but she did, eventually, produce something. "I was on a rugby team at university," she offered with a faint grin. "I enjoyed that."
"Rugby," AJ mused quietly. Well, she probably wasn't going to find much of that here. "We have football. It's almost the same thing. Maybe I'll take you to a game sometime," he suggested, though football wasn't really just like rugby and he wasn't sure she'd want to go anywhere with him.
"You'll have to explain the rules," she chuckled, glancing up at his expression. Her smile softened a little. "I'm used to being alone, Andrew. It may take a little while for me to get used to spending time with you, but that doesn't mean I don't want to."
"If you can understand rugby, football should be a cinch," he replied, as the elevator dinged and the doors slid open. He waited for a small crowd of people to get off before waving her forward. "I think maybe we should start with coffee and work our way up from there," he suggested with a smile that bore a hint of wariness. He wasn't hoping for anything more than friendship at this point, even if he secretly wanted something more.
She nodded in agreement, even if her smile did fade. The wariness was more than enough to puncture any growing hope, but she was determined to be friendly at the very least. Even if she wanted more than friendship, she knew he was making the right decision. "I suppose it all depends whether or not this place can make a decent cup of tea," she said in amusement. "Otherwise I may have to declare your workplace as populated by heathens."
He chuckled at little as they stepped into the elevator and he tapped a button that would take them down a few floors to where the coffee shop was located. "I'm sure they have tea, too," he assured her, amused her insistence on tea in a place where coffee was the norm. Then again, she was a long way from home, and she'd have a lot of adjustments to make. "So, how'd you end up picking the short straw?" he asked, wondering how she felt about being uprooted and sent to live and work far from home.
"Are you sure you want to know the answer to that?" she asked, with a slightly embarrassed cast to her smile as she leaned lightly against the elevator wall. "And if they don't have tea, I propose to have some sent over here and teach them how to make a proper brew."
His own smile faded, wondering if this was punishment of some kind for what had happened in Paris, though they'd been successful enough in Greece. In fact, he thought they'd done a hell of a job together ... at least, until they'd blurred the lines. "I wouldn't ask if I didn't want to know, but you don't have to tell me if you don't want to." He didn't say anything else about the tea, as he'd already assured her they'd have some, even if it wasn't made exactly how she liked it.
"I volunteered," she told him with a rueful smile. "They wouldn't have considered me otherwise. And I put in the overtime hours to clear my desk, so they couldn't hold me in London because of pending projects I was working on. I suppose you could say that I badgered them into it." She glanced toward him, almost embarrassed to admit, "I really wanted the job."
From the look on his face, that wasn't the explanation he'd been expecting, but before he had a chance to remark on it, the elevator dinged again as they reached their floor. "Why would you want to leave home and come here?" he asked curiously, as he led her from the elevator and out into another long and crowded hallway.
Can't you guess? She was sorely tempted to ask it out loud, but it wouldn't have been fair to do so. "Because London was missing something," she said quietly. "Something I realized meant a lot more to me than I had allowed myself to believe until it was gone."
It, not him, but what was that it? He couldn't imagine, and he was feeling confused again. What was it about her that always seemed to confuse him? She couldn't be talking about him, could she? He didn't even want to consider it, for fear he was wrong. And what if he wasn't wrong? What if she was talking about him? What then? "Meg ..." he started, before looking around and realizing they weren't alone - not by a long shot.
She paused, meeting his eyes with a smile that understood more than he might have wanted. "I know," she nodded. "Just coffee, that's all I'm getting. And maybe a football game. But I don't regret coming."
"I didn't say that, and you're ..." He paused a moment to look around again, as if he was afraid someone might overhear. This wasn't the time or the place for this conversation. He sighed and scratched at his beard before falling into step again to led her onward. "Come on. Let's get your tea."
She nodded, understanding that this really wasn't the time or place to have this conversation. Hopefully they would manage to have it soon, though, or working together was going to prove very uncomfortable, for both of them. She tilted her head curiously at the sight of agents lined up along the corridor. "What on earth is going on here?"
AJ grinned, his confusion momentarily forgotten and replaced with amusement. "That, my dear Agent Miller, is the line for Starbucks." And what a line it was, which spoke volumes of Americans and their obsession with coffee, not to mention government employees. "Shall we?" he asked, waving her onward.
"You have a Starbucks in your headquarters?" She laughed, moving with him toward the line, bending to the side to try and see just how far it stretched. "Whatever happened to a small kitchen on every floor and your own personal mug?"
"It's a lot faster and more convenient than going out for coffee," he explained, which was true, considering the size of the building and grounds and the security one had to endure going in and out. "Oh, we have one of those, too, but I thought we'd take a walk," he told her, feeling a little silly now that she'd mentioned it. Okay, so maybe this wasn't just about coffee, after all.
"I appreciate the exercise," she assured him with a smile. "There really is only so long you can smile politely while someone explains how a phone works before you start committing murder in inventive ways inside your own head."
He chuckled as they lined up outside the Starbucks in a queue that seemed to go on forever, the smell of freshly brewed coffee and baked goods wafted from the shop. "I'm pretty sure you already know how to use a phone."
"Not if you judge me by the induction material I have for this week," she laughed quietly. "Today is basic communications; I'm actually looking forward to combat readiness on Friday. I've already heard a few comments about how ... delicate and fragile I seem."
"I'm sure you'll have fun proving them wrong," he said with a grin. After all, he'd seen her in action; but he'd also seen another side of her and knew she could be quiet and bashful under the right circumstances. He was tempted to ask which Meg he was seeing today, but thought better of it, not wanting to risk angering her when they were getting along so well.
"I'm sure I will," she agreed confidently. "It's going to be a long week, though. Apparently I'll be taking over Riggs' cases next week? Does that mean Riggs is in London now?"
"Yeah, prick got a promotion. Can you believe it? After all that work, and he gets a promotion. Tell you the truth, the joke's on him. He's there, and you're here, and that's just fine with me," he said, in a rush of words he knew didn't make much sense. "I mean, I was jealous at first. Envious that he'd get to work with you, but now it doesn't matter."
She hadn't expected him to suddenly blurt out quite that much, and despite the rush of words, she thought she might understand what he was saying. A soft flush colored her cheeks as she smiled under the weight of his jealousy. "You don't regret missing out on his promotion, then?" she asked quietly. She turned just a little, just enough to discreetly brush her knuckles against his before retreating. "After all, he is going to be working with James. He'll be very lucky if he doesn't have everyone in MI6 calling him Emma by the end of the week."
"Better him than me," AJ replied, a little too quickly. It wasn't that he didn't want a promotion, and he wouldn't have minded going to London so much if she'd been there, but now that she was here, there wasn't much point. He couldn't help but notice how her knuckles brushed briefly against his or the flush that colored her cheeks, but he said nothing about it. Not here, not now. The line was moving, and he moved slowly with it. His fingers slid into his pants pocket and brushed the slip of paper she'd given him with her address and phone number. Did she want him to call first or just stop by? "Do you have anyone to show you around town?" he blurted. Around town, being the entire DC area, not just Langley.
"Uh, no, not really," she admitted. "Amanda said something about taking me to the Townhall, which I can't see being much of a night out unless I've missed something there. But I really don't know anyone here." No one but you, her eyes added above her smile, trying not to seem hopeful. "I suppose I'll have to pick it up as I go along."
"Don't be silly. I can show you around," he told her without hesitation. "You should get to know Amanda, too. I don't know how things are at MI6, but we're a pretty tight bunch. We take care of our own. Even Riggs," he added with a chuckle, as they moved up a few spots more. They were getting closer to the counter, and they'd have to order soon, but he seemed unable to tear his eyes away from her for the moment.
"That is a relief," she admitted. "I was afraid that perhaps I would be very much the outsider. I do stick out like a sore thumb, rather, although I could probably wear an accent to make people more comfortable around me."
"We were all new here once, Meg," he reminded her. It didn't much matter to him - or probably anyone else - that she was English. She'd be a novelty to some, an oddity to others. To him, she was only herself. "It's our turn," he told her, as the last of the people in line moved aside to wait for their coffee or latte or tea, making room for them to order.
"How on earth do I order a normal sized cup of tea?" she asked, utterly bewildered by the menu above the baristas. "I've never actually been into a Starbucks before now."
"Just like that," he replied with a grin. "How do you like it?" he asked, as he stepped up to the counter.
The girl working behind the counter recognized him, but never asked his name. There were rules against asking the agents their names, not even the handsome ones. "Welcome to Starbucks. Can I take your order?" she asked, just as she asked him every day, just as she asked everyone who came to her counter countless times a day.
"Black, no sugar, please," Meg answered, curious to know why no one seemed to be asked their names. Even though she'd never entered a Starbucks in her life, there were some things you picked up from daily conversation. Her favorite being the fact that one of her colleagues in London had yet to receive a cup with his name spelled correctly after going to the same one for five years.
AJ ordered her tea, along with a cup of black coffee for himself, and a couple of scones. They weren't the kind of scones she might find in London; they were Starbucks' version of scones, more pastry than biscuit, but they'd do. He paid for their order and stepped aside to wait for it.
"Scones?" Meg teased him warmly. "My dear Agent Doyle, are you trying to give me a taste of home with cream tea in the middle of an afternoon shift?" She was pretty sure he didn't know precisely what went into a cream tea, and that the promised scones were likely to be a disappointment when measured against what she expected of something with that name, but it was fun to tease so harmlessly.
"Only until I can convert you to coffee," he teased back, handing her a paper cup filled with black tea, and taking up a cup and a bag for himself, and leading the way toward a group of tables in hopes of finding a couple of empty seats where they could sip their coffee and talk without worrying about their coworkers overhearing.
With her tea in hand, she followed him, easing down into a chair at a table that was apparently not very popular. It probably had something to do with the fact that the table was small, wedged into a corner, and to sit at it and hold a conversation, both parties had to put their backs to the majority of the room. The secret service generally didn't like to leave their backs exposed. "Andrew, you will never break me of my love for tea," she told him, settling comfortably into the chair with a glance about the crowded coffeeshop.
"Why Andrew?" he asked, out of the blue. It was a question that had been poking at him for a while now. "I mean, everyone else calls me AJ." And the only reason she knew his real name was Andrew was because presumably read his dossier.
She blinked, surprised by the question. "Because it's your name, Andrew," she told him, almost confused to have to explain this to him. "I'm English, I don't fall into the pattern of easily adopting initials to refer to anyone. Would you rather I made an exception and called you AJ, like everyone else does?"
That was the question, wasn't it? He had to think about it a minute before replying, realizing he liked that she called him something different than everyone else, even if it did sound kind of formal. "You're not like everyone else, so no. Just don't call me Andy, okay?" he asked, before reaching into the bag and handing her one of the scones, along with a few napkins.
"Oh, good grief, no," she laughed. "The only Andy I have ever met was a complete bastard, so you can be sure I will never do that to your name." She leaned closer to peer at the scones as he pulled them out of the bag. "That is not a scone," she informed him. "That is a cake."
"Well, here it's a scone, so you might as well get used to it," AJ replied, without apologies, smiling around his own scone as he took a healthy bite. At least, they couldn't screw up her tea too much. She could even get Earl Grey, if she wanted it.
Did he really want to bet on that? Meg sipped her tea, and just about managed to not to make a face as she swallowed. Ah, well. She'd brought a few bags of loose leaf with her. "England and America, separated by a common language," she chuckled, taking a significantly smaller bite of her own scone to try it out, though that was mostly because her mouth was significantly smaller than his.
He frowned over at her, realizing she might not be enjoying Starbucks' version of a traditionally English treat. "You don't like it, do you?" he asked, noting how she was only taking small bites and working hard not to make a face.
"Oh no, it's not that I don't like it," she rushed to reassure him, swallowing another mouthful of tea to wash the cake down. "It isn't what I was expecting. It's ... Well, it's awfully sweet and sticky. Like a Belgian bun without the cherry."
"I'm afraid I'm not sure what a Belgian bun tastes like," he replied, before scarfing down the rest of his so-called scone. He wondered what she'd think the next time there was complimentary coffee and donuts for breakfast.
"I'll have to see if I can find some for you, then," she chuckled. "Or make some, if I can be bothered. I'm afraid I don't usually have much enthusiasm when it comes to cooking." Which wasn't the same as saying she couldn't cook.
He could have made a crude joke about Belgian buns and the women - or he supposed men - who had them, but he held his tongue. "So, I guess I failed at breakfast," he said, with a slight frown. Yes, this really was what he considered to be breakfast. He took another sip of his coffee, knowing they should probably get back to the office before someone came looking for them. "So, uh ... What are you doing after work? I could show you around a little, if you want." He wasn't sure how settled in she was yet, if at all, but he was willing to help if she needed it.
"You and I have very different ideas about what makes a breakfast," she laughed, licking her fingertips clean before wrapping her hands about the paper cup in front of her. His offer brought out another of those almost blushes, her smile softer once again. "I would very much appreciate that," she thanked him quietly. "I only moved in a few days ago, and I haven't quite worked out where anything is, really."
"It's pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Traffic around DC is a bitch, but I don't live too far from here." He glanced at his watch and frowned. "We should probably get back." After all, they were only supposed to be on a coffee break.
"I suppose we should," she agreed reluctantly, drinking down what was left of her tea. "I should prove I know how emails work before the end of the day." She flashed him a teasing smile as they rose from the table. "I don't actually know how I'm getting back to my apartment yet, either. That should make the commute interesting - you don't have a regular bus service here, do you?"
"There's a bus, but I can give you a ride, if you want." It wasn't that big a deal, since he was planning to show her around anyway. He'd promised her dinner at his place once, but he didn't think this was the time or place to ask her about that again. He wasn't really sure where this was going now that they were co-workers, but at least they were talking, and friendship was better than nothing, wasn't it?
It was more conversation than they had managed at all, either in Paris, London, or on Spetses, so it was definitely an improvement. "Goodness, would you really?" she asked, genuinely pleased by his offer. "I suppose I should see about getting myself a bike or a car, but I thought I would wait to get used to everyone driving on the wrong side of the road first."
He chuckled as he got to his feet, gathering up the crumb-filled napkin and stuffing them into the bag. "What makes you think we're the ones driving on the wrong side of the road?" he teased.
"Because the wrong side of the road is obviously the right," she teased laughingly, tipping her cup into the trashcan as they moved out from the crowded tables and back into the oddly wide corridors of the building at large.
"Obviously to you because you're English, but to us, you're the ones who have it backwards," he reasoned, though it was a moot point that they were never going to agree on. There were probably a lot of things they were never going to agree on, but maybe they could at least agree that they enjoyed each other's company.
"You'd hate it in New Zealand, then," she smiled. It really was amazing what a little light conversation could do. Meg had relaxed in his company - not so much that she was going to do something that would draw attention to them, but enough to smile and laugh easily. She liked his company. "All right, so ... when do you knock off tonight?"
"What has New Zealand got to do with it?" he asked, laughing. Yes, he knew they drove on the wrong side of the road there, too, but he wasn't sure why she'd mentioned it. "When I'm ready," he replied with yet another grin. It wasn't a fib, exactly. He tended to stay late most nights, but quitting time was usually around five or six.
"Oh, that helps," she drawled with mild sarcasm, rolling her eyes at him as she laughed her quiet laugh. "I'll just have to drag out this interminable afternoon, then. Or would you prefer me to fit you with a bell, so you can tinkle when you're ready to take me home?"
"I'm sure we'll find something for you to do," he assured her as he led the way back toward the elevators. He knew it must be daunting to move to a different country and try to find your way around. At least, they spoke the same language. He was also sure it wouldn't be long before her caseload was full and she had more than enough work to keep her busy.
But until then, her days were going to drag. Even today, the first here, with various agents stopping by her desk to introduce themselves and help her wrangle the computer system with their own personal tricks ... it still felt like a short ice age until six o'clock rolled around. By that point, Meg had her head on her folded arms, willing the second hand on the clock to move faster.
On the other hand, AJ had his hands full, juggling reports and meetings, and updating files and cases. He barely had time to say a word to her for the rest of the day, so it was probably a good thing they'd had their little coffee break. By the time six o'clock rolled around, he looked more than ready to leave. He tossed his jacket on over his shoulders and logged off his computer before turning to her with a smile. "You ready to blow this popsicle stand?"
"Oh, God, yes!" She was up and out of her seat within seconds, her jacket on and her purse in her hands. "I don't suppose there's any chance of popping home to change before we do anything else, is there? I could order in, perhaps."
"Perhaps," he replied with a grin, teasing her a little. "I'm at your mercy, Miller. Besides, I promised you a ride home," he reminded her, hoping she didn't live too far and that they didn't have to waste too much time in traffic.
"Well, at the very least, I should make you a proper cup of tea," she told him, falling into step as he lead the way. She glanced at him, wondering if he had read the little slip she'd given him, or if she was going to have to somehow give him directions. "I plan to educate your taste buds."
"You're going to educate me on the proper way to drink tea?" he asked, with a chuckle. "Am I supposed to drink it with my pinky extended?" he teased, possibly misunderstanding her. To be honest, he'd forgotten about the slip of paper in his pocket, knowing he was going to be driving her home. "So, where are we going?"
"Oh, darling, if you're going to be pretentious, there are far better ways to do it than waving your little finger around willy nilly," she assured him laughingly. His question answered her wonderings, making her smile again. "4405, Franklin Drive," she told him. "In Langley. Apartment 404, though I don't think you need to know that to drive there."
"I could wave something else around, but I might get arrested," he replied, with that cheesy grin of his. His brows arched upwards when she told him her address. "Franklin Drive? You're kidding, right?" She had read his dossier, after all, but he didn't think his address was listed.
She snorted with laughter, shaking her head at his cheesy teasing. "Does it do the thinking for you, too?" she asked sweetly, though her expression cleared at his reaction to her new address. "Um ... did I get it wrong?" she asked worriedly, rummaging in her purse for her notebook. "No, look ... 4405, Franklin Drive. What's the matter?"
"Sometimes," he admitted. Apparently, it had in Paris, but he didn't mention that. Maybe in Spetses a little, too. She seemed to be pretending none of that had happened, and he was only too happy to go along with her. "We live in the same building." What were the chances of that? It couldn't be a coincidence, could it? He wondered if someone was setting them up.
"We do?" Her expression cleared into a soft smile as she tucked her notebook away, both of them having to join a particularly packed elevator in order to get downstairs. Standing this close hadn't been the plan, but there wasn't much they could do to avoid it. "Well, that's convenient, isn't it? You may have to put up with me knocking on your door if I find a spider."
He chuckled to himself, reaching around her to hold the door open so that they could squeeze in together. "What makes you think I'm not afraid of spiders?" he asked, blue eyes bright with amusement.
"We can hide on top of the wardrobe together, then," she suggested laughingly, squeezing into the elevator with him and the sixteen or so other agents eager to get home for the night.
"We'd probably break it," he replied, but that look of amusement was still there on his face. He suddenly seemed to realize that they weren't alone, and he wasn't sure he wanted to say much more about where they were both living where other agents could overhear and tease one or both of them about it later. He wasn't sure, in fact, whether he wanted the other agents to overhear much of anything he had to say to her, and so he fell silent.
Coming to the same conclusion as AJ at virtually the same time, Meg, too, fell silent, apart from a quiet groan as the elevator stopped on another floor to take on yet more passengers before continuing downward. That fresh squeeze resulted in her standing much closer to him than she had been expecting, and despite herself, she couldn't help blushing anew as she was reacquainted with the way he smelled.
"Hey, Johnson! This thing has a weight limit, you know, and you take up half of it all by yourself!" AJ called from beside Meg as the tall hulk of a man squeezed himself in.
All AJ got for his trouble was a middle-finger salute from the man, who went on to give Meg the once over. "Who's the new recruit?" he asked, his attention fixed on Meg.
"Hardly a new recruit," she said, raising a brow as she looked up at the man who had sandwiched her between himself and AJ. "My name is Margaret Miller, I'm the new liaison from MI6. And you are?"
"Mitch Johnson, ma'am," the big man replied with a grin. "Don't tell me they've got you partnered with this jerk," he said, nodding his head to indicate AJ, a smirk on his face that told her he was just yanking the man's chain.
She smiled, relieved that Johnson was friendly, in spite of his intimidating bulk. "I'm not sure that I'll be partnered with anyone until my induction is over," she said conversationally, somehow managing to lean against AJ without it looking as though she was doing that at all. "Why, are you thinking of volunteering for the onerous duty?"
AJ was aware of that lean, anyway, but he didn't let on, snickering a little at Johnson's teasing. "Does he look like he needs a partner?" AJ teased back. The two men might have a story to tell about their acquaintance, but for now, neither was telling it.
"Perhaps not," Meg considered, glancing between the two smirking men. "But most men need someone to hold their hand on occasion, I've noticed. Sometimes even to hold their purse while they play."
"I wouldn't object if you wanted to hold my hand," Mitch replied, that grin still in place. "But I don't have a purse. Maybe Junior does. Have you asked him?" he said with another nod at AJ.
This was the first time anyone had referred to him as Junior in Meg's presence and it had AJ clearing his throat in warning.
So that's what the J stands for. Meg's smile was a little more teasing as she looked up at AJ, suggesting she was going to follow that line of inquiry later on. "I can't say I have asked him about his purse, no," she told Mitch cheerfully. "Just how junior are we talking here?"
"We're talking Junior as in ..." Mitch began, but before he could finish, the elevator dinged, the doors slid open, and everyone started bailing, on their way home for the night.
"That's enough. Can't tell her all my secrets her first day on the job."
Johnson chuckled. There was no way she wasn't going to ask AJ about it now, and that was all he needed to know. "Night, ma'am. Junior," he said, laughing to himself as he strode out of the elevator to follow the mass exodus to the door.
"Yes, you should leave me a couple of secrets to open on my birthday," Meg chuckled, straightening from her lean discreetly to fall in as everyone exited the elevator. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Mitch." The smile she flickered in AJ's direction promised they had plenty to talk about now, but it would have to wait while the security checks were done. She joined the women's line to pass through the gate, and found a place out of the way to wait for him to join her.
Getting out of the building was almost as time-consuming as getting in, but eventually they both managed it, and he caught up with her to lead the way toward the parking lot. "Sorry about that. Johnson's a good agent, but he can be an ass sometimes."
"He seemed rather charming, to me," she commented teasingly, falling into step with him easily enough. "Junior?" Of course she wasn't going to let that one go; she'd been offered a hint of where to start getting to know him, and she wasn't going to let go of the thread until it started unraveling.
"Named after my father," AJ replied with a small frown. "Andrew Jackson Doyle, Junior. AJ for short. No one calls me Junior. Not even my old man."
The frown was enough to tell her to drop it, no matter how deeply curious she was. It did leave her a little stymied as to how to continue talking, though. Casting around for something to say, she shrugged. "At least you didn't come out of childhood with a name that suggests your parents were hoping for a princess."
"What's wrong with Margaret?" he asked. Though it was an unusual name for someone from their generation here in the States, he wasn't sure if the same was true back in England. Despite all the time they'd spent together in both Paris and Greece, he realized they didn't really know all that much about each other, except what was part of their dossiers.
"Margaret Anne Catherine," she admitted to him with a rueful smile. "All very royal names. My grandmother delighted in using my full name whenever she could get an excuse to do so." She laughed, shaking her head. "She was awfully upper class, my Nana."
"That's quite a mouthful," he agreed with a chuckle. "Almost as pretentious as mine. So, I assume most of what you told me in Paris wasn't true," he mused aloud as pulled his keys out of a jacket pocket and led the way through the parking lot, which was slowly starting to empty. He assumed most of what she'd told him was untrue, since she'd been posing as someone else then - a slightly ditzy redhead from Boston.
Her smile faded. "That's a safe assumption," she agreed quietly. "Sarah has a big family, and she revels in it. I don't." Though she didn't elaborate, there was no sense of pain or distress in the way she offered this; no warning against asking any further questions. It was just a fact of her life.
He didn't miss the fact that she'd mentioned her grandmother in the past tense, so it was safe to assume that she, at least, had passed away, but that didn't tell him anything about the rest of her family - her parents or any siblings. "Do you miss them? Your family? England is a long way away," he said, deciding to assume she had some semblance of a family left, no matter how small.
"I've been on my own since I was eighteen," she told him, her voice still quiet, as though this was for his ears only no matter where they were. "It's difficult to maintain friendships outside work, so ... there isn't much in England for me to miss."
"Not here, it isn't. We're all one big happy family here. Well, all of us but Riggs," he added with a smirk, though Riggs had taken her place in London and wasn't there to get under his skin or defend himself. AJ came to a halt beside a very impressive and expensive looking motorcycle, a grin spreading across his face. "Well, here we are," he announced, fishing his keys out of a pocket in his jacket.
She had been expecting a car. But the bike really didn't surprise her, drawing a laugh from her lips as she shook her head. "Putting my life in your hands again, it seems," she said cheerfully, tucking her purse into the back of her pants in preparation for this ride.
"Disappointed?" he asked as he unlocked the helmet from where it was secured to the back of the seat. A car might have been more practical, but a bike was a lot more fun, and he didn't have too far to go.
"Not at all." She met his gaze, and for the first time since he'd met her, there was a wide, warm grin on her face, lighting up her eyes in a way that proved she wore a sort of mask even when she was being herself. "I couldn't bring my bike, after all."
"You have a bike?" he asked, brows arching upwards as he stepped toward her with the helmet in hand. "Here, try this on for size. It's probably a little too big, but it's better than nothing," he said as he handed her the helmet, not wanting to be blamed for messing her hair.
"I do," she chuckled at his expression. "Yamaha R6, if that helps you put the picture together." She took his helmet with a faint frown. "What about you?" she asked, though she didn't argue with him, flicking her hair back from her face before settling the helmet - oversized, on her - on her head. "I take it you don't have a spare."
"Helmet?" he asked, for a split second wondering if she meant whether he had a spare bike. "No, but we aren't going far," he said, as he helped her adjust and fasten the helmet. If he knew he was going to be driving her home, he probably would have driven his car in. Then again, this was a lot more intimate, not to mention fun.
She watched him as he adjusted the strap under her chin for safety's sake, rather enjoying the way his face relaxed when he wasn't worried about letting anything show in his expression. "I'm glad you know where we're going, because I certainly don't yet."
"So, what did they rent an apartment for you sight unseen?" He was more than a little surprised to have learned that she was going to be living in his building, at least, for now. "I'm sure you can find some place else, if you don't like it," he added, just in case, though he found himself hoping she wouldn't.
"I've been in it for a couple of days, but essentially, yes," she nodded in agreement. "It was part of the arrangement for the transfer, and I actually quite like it. It's bigger than I expected it to be, when I was told I was being put in a studio apartment."
"Wish I'd known," he murmured, mostly to himself, but then, what would he have done if he had known? Throw her a party? Knock on her door and ask if she needed help? Maybe. Take her out for coffee ... or tea? Certainly. And suddenly another thought came to mind, though he wasn't sure if he should ask it. "How much has been real so far?" he asked, against his better judgment. "I mean, Sarah liked coffee with sugar, but you seem to prefer tea." And that was just for starters.
"Sarah is American," she reminded him, though she didn't like the reminder that their first meeting had been quite so duplicitous on her part. "I don't really know how to answer that, Andrew. Do you know how to answer it, if the question is turned around to stripping away the differences between you and Jason? The lie is only the starting point, a baseline to stick to. It's the character, yes, but I can't stop myself from expressing myself through that character. I think the only way to know for certain is to take the time to get to know me, the way I'd like to get to know you."
"I've read your file," he admitted, somewhat guiltily, though she'd read his, as well, so it was kind of tit for tat. "It's impressive, but it doesn't really tell me who you are. I'd like the chance to get to know you as a person, as a friend even. Not just as a name in a file. If you'll let me."
"We know the facts, but we don't know how they fit into the picture," she said quietly. Drawing in a quick breath, she let it out in a rush, hurrying to get the words out before she lost courage. "I volunteered for this job solely because I knew I would be working in close proximity to you, and I might be able to convince you to get to know me and let me get to know you. You're the reason I'm here, Andrew, nothing else."
"Me?" he echoed. She'd practically said as much during their coffee break, but he hadn't really gotten it then, anymore than he was getting it now. "I don't understand. You volunteered to come here because of me?" What did she mean by that exactly? Did she mean what he thought she meant? He found his heart was beating a little bit harder, but he didn't want to get his hopes up too soon.
He didn't have the best view of her face now she was wearing the helmet, but as far as Meg was concerned, that was something of a blessing. This really wasn't the place to be having this conversation, but she'd dropped herself right in it of her own accord. "I like you, Andrew," she said simply. "You. Not Jason, or Jake, or any other aspect or character. I ... I came here hoping that perhaps there might be a chance you could like me."
And here he thought she'd come here to advance her career. He wasn't quite sure whether or not she was just teasing him, but one way or another, he was determined to find out. "I like you, too, Meg," he told her, a soft smile on his face, forcing himself to keep his hands to himself. The mass exodus from work wasn't over yet, and there were too many people around who might get the wrong idea. Or was it the right idea? After all, they were both consenting adults. Why did things have to be so complicated? "Come on. Let's go home. I'll make you a cup of tea and we'll order some Chinese or something."
It was a shame he couldn't see her smile, but her eyes reflected it - a shimmering example of hope and pleasure, and genuine excitement at the prospect of getting to know him properly. "I thought I was the one making the tea," she teased warmly, gesturing for him to get on the bike so she could wedge herself on the seat behind him.
"Fine, you make the tea. I'll order out," he replied with a grin, turning away so he could climb onto the bike. He kicked the stand up and held the bike steady, straddling the seat and waiting for her to climb on behind him. "Hang on tight," he warned.
Straddling the bike, she squeaked a little as she sat down, wedged very tightly between him and the lip of the seat as her arms wrapped about him. "Home, James, and don't spare the horses."
"Yes, ma'am," he replied obediently, and in a moment, the bike's engine was purring like a kitten ... or maybe more like a tiger. There was one advantage motorcycles had over cars, and that was the ability to weave their way through traffic, especially when it was bumper to bumper, as it often was in DC. Thankfully, they were on the outskirts and wouldn't have to get anywhere near that kind of traffic. It was why he'd found an apartment not too far from work. It wasn't that he didn't like driving, but he saved serious road trips for his day off.
It was a strange feeling, being pressed this close to him and completely unable to do anything about it, but Meg didn't mind so much as the engine purred. She loved her own bike, and she had a feeling his was probably far less likely to konk out at ninety and send them hurtling into the nearest hedge out of spite, the way hers liked to. But between being close to AJ and the thrill of the bike between her thighs, the journey really was far too short for her liking. After all, the end of the journey meant she had to take the helmet off and face him properly after their mutual confessions in the parking lot.
There were further confessions to make, further things he wanted to tell her, but at least they'd made a good start. It was far better than the way they'd parted ways after Greece. It had been a long time since he'd invited a woman to ride with him, and he found he liked the way it felt to feel her arms around him, her body pressed snugly against his. It wasn't just about the thrill of the ride, but the thrill of having her close, and he couldn't help but wonder how much Meg she'd put into the part of Sarah while they were together in Paris.
The ride really was too short, though she couldn't help looking forward to being able to properly relax in his company for the first time. Of course, he got a bit of a show when she took the helmet off - she could never resist doing the sexy advert routine, shaking her hair out as she lowered the helmet from her head. "So ..." she said, handing the helmet over. "Are you coming to me, or am I coming to you?"
Now that they'd arrived, he climbed off the bike and kicked the stand down. "I have no preference, do you?" he asked as he took the helmet from her, chuckling a little as she shook her hair out.
"All right, then," she said, smiling back at him. "Give me twenty minutes to change and make the bed, and knock on the door. After all, I'm the one who actually has proper tea."
"Deal," he replied. "But dinner's on me." After all, it was the least he could do. As for agreeing to meet at her apartment, she didn't even know which apartment was his yet, and it was probably better that way until he had a chance to clean the place up.
"It's a deal," she agreed, pulling her purse out from the back of her pants. "See you in a little while, then." Without stopping to think about it, she kissed his cheek, stepping back with another of those soft smiles to turn and make her way to the stairs, jogging up and out of sight in the hope that her little apartment could be made presentable within twenty minutes.
He watched her go, rubbing at the spot where she'd kissed his cheek. While they'd already slept together as "Sarah" and "Jason", and posed as a married couple as "Sophie" and "Jake", somehow that chaste little kiss to his cheek felt more intimate than anything they'd shared together thus far. Maybe, he realized, because it was real. He finished securing his bike before following her inside, but going to his own apartment first to freshen up.
Twenty minutes later, AJ was standing at her door in jeans, a navy blue shirt that almost matched his eyes, and a pair of black Nikes. In one hand he was carrying a take-out menu for a local Chinese restaurant, just like he'd promised, while the other hand rapped on the door.
It was only a few seconds before Meg pulled the door open, her face lighting up in a smile that was definitely far more relaxed than any he'd seen from her thus far. "Well, look who it is," she teased, stepping back. "Come in, make yourself comfortable."
She'd changed her clothes, too, eschewing the smart pants suit and heels for a red t-shirt, grey pants, and bare feet, her hair brushed and left loose about her face. The apartment wasn't as cramped as it might have seemed on paper, the room separated into bed and living by the careful positioning of her couch more than anything. It might well have been provided by their respective governments, but she had managed to stamp her own personality in places with the colorful bedspread, and the small collection of photographs on the table. Small and simple, yes, but it suited her.
There was something about her bare feet that felt strangely intimate, though he made no mention that he'd noticed. At least, she looked comfortable and far more relaxed than she'd been at the office. "I just happened to be in the neighborhood and thought I'd drop in. I hope you don't mind," he teased back in return, as he accepted her invitation and stepped inside to take a quick look around. The space wasn't very big, but she seemed to have made it hers, and he thought it suited her. "Nice. I love what you've done with the place," he said, echoing what people always seemed to say when they were first invited into someone else's home.
"Oh, not at all," she welcomed him in. "I happen to like the idea of being dropped in on by you." Laughing, she shut the door behind him, groaning in amusement at the cliched platitude that passed his lips. "Yes, I am a decorating genius," she announced teasingly. "I moved the couch and made the bed, I should get paid for my efforts." Nudging his arm with her shoulder, she flashed him a warm grin, moving into the kitchen to pour newly boiled water into a teapot already set up for steeping.
"You never know when those skills might come in handy," he replied, smiling as she nudged his arm. After all, they were spies and sometimes had to pretend to be people they weren't, but that wasn't exactly what he meant. She probably knew as well as he did that people in their line of work didn't stay in the field until they were old and gray. "Should I take my shoes off?" he asked, before he got too far into the apartment.
"If you want to, feel free," she told him cheerfully, setting the lid on the pot before turning to locate a couple of mugs. Not teacups - she might be English, but she wasn't irrevocably so. "I'd like you to be comfortable."
It only seemed right to take his shoes off, since she was already barefoot. He left them by the door before following her into the kitchen, blue socks covering his feet. Admittedly, it wasn't far to walk, just a few feet further, though he wasn't sure whether she wanted him in the kitchen or seated at the counter, so he just took a lean in the doorway for now. "Do you like Chinese? I brought a menu," he told her, said menu dangling from a hand.
"I do like Chinese," she assured him. "I'm not sure I've ever had proper Chinese takeout before, though. In England, the takeaways all tend to produce the same sort of greasy food that appeals to the drunk in everyone." Picking up the tray she had set everything on, she turned toward him. "I do solemnly swear that sitting on the couch does not necessarily mean I will pounce you off it and onto the bed."
"I trust you," he assured her, a slightly mischievous smirk on his face. "Do you trust me?" he countered, though he didn't explain just why he was asking her that yet. "Here ..." he said, setting the menu on the counter and reaching for the tray. "I can take that. Where do you want it? Coffee table?"
She held his gaze, surprised he needed to ask for her trust. "I invited you into my home, Andrew," she reminded him softly. "I don't do that for anyone I don't trust." Her smile returned as he claimed the tray from her, wondering if he knew just how gentlemanly he was being. "Thank you, the coffee table is a good idea."
"Trust me enough to order dinner?" he added, as he took the tray from her and started toward the couch and coffee table. Whatever it was she was used to in England, he was hoping to please her with his dinner choices. Cooking would have been better, but maybe he'd wow her with his cooking skills some other time. If he was doing anything out of the ordinary, he wasn't really aware of it. He was just being himself - not Jason or Jake, but Andrew.
"Well, you've had plenty of opportunities to poison me before now, so yes, I do trust you to order dinner," she chuckled, absently untucking the back of his shirt where it had caught in his pants, following him to the more comfortable part of her little apartment.
He felt the almost casually familiar adjustment of his shirt, but said nothing of it as he carefully carried the tray into the living room and set it down on the coffee table. "Why don't you pour the tea while I order dinner?" he suggested, once the tray had successfully made it the short distance from kitchen to living room.
"All right." She eyed him with playful suspicion as she perched on the edge of the couch. "You're being awfully mysterious about feeding me, you know." She paused a moment, looking into the pot to check the brew. "I rather like it."
"Nothing mysterious about ordering dinner. I just don't want you to be disappointed," he said as he pulled out his phone and texted the order, without even looking at the menu or the phone number. Apparently, he was a regular.
"Somehow, I doubt you could disappoint me," she assured him, pouring the tea out. She'd remembered to put milk and sugar on the tray for his convenience, which was something of a first, since she didn't take either in her own tea. It was a proper British breakfast tea, the kind drunk across England that didn't cost the earth to keep stocked in your cupboards.
He looked up from his texting, a small frown on his face. "There's a first time for everything," he warned her, obviously not as sure of himself as he might want people to think. He took a seat on the couch, smiling a little at the very proper way she was serving him tea, even if she wasn't using tea cups. "You know, I've never had a proper tea. We don't really do tea in this country, and I never really had a chance when I was in London."
"Well, to be fair, this isn't real tea," she admitted. "Teabags, this time around. I do have a few varieties of loose leaf that I brought with me, but I'm not sure how much of an acquired taste they are. The nearest city to my hometown is home to the Bluebird Tea company, and I'm a little spoiled." She chuckled, offering him one of the mugs before wrapping her hands about her own and easing back to sit comfortably on the couch. "You seem nervous."
"Nervous, me?" He chuckled, almost nervously. "Why should I be nervous?" he asked, as he reached to take the mug from her. "You're not going to lecture me on the proper way to drink my tea, are you?" he asked, remembering a conversation a few hours earlier involving extending his pinky.
She laughed, shaking her head. "Relax, Andrew, you're not taking a test," she assured him fondly. She was struggling a little herself, but it was mostly because the bed was right there. The temptation was very great, but she had promised herself she would get to know him before giving into that temptation. It was the most vulnerable she could possibly make herself with him, and as such, it really shouldn't be rushed. "Have you really never had tea before? I can put the coffee pot on, if you would rather."
"No, I've had tea," he said. "Just ... not like this. I know the English take their tea pretty seriously. So do the Japanese. I guess I'm just not that refined." He shrugged, as if in apology for his shortcomings. "We're mostly coffee addicts in this country. It's even become a big business, as you might have noticed."
"We don't take it as seriously as the Japanese," she was quick to correct him gently. "It's a social construct, yes, but having tea in England is vastly different to the tea ceremony in Japan. You have coffee breaks, we have tea breaks. It's pretty much the same relationship, really." She laughed at his mention of big business. "Yes, well ... Starbucks must be doing well to get a branch in CIA headquarters."
"Someone has to do it, I guess. They're kind of expensive, but no one seems to be complaining." As was evidenced by the line they'd had to wait in just to get a cup of coffee. He leaned forward so that he could stir a bit of milk and sugar into his tea - not a lot, just enough to give it a little sweetness. "My mother was a tea drinker," he said, as he stirred. Past tense.
"True, there is a lot of money in making horrendously unhealthy coffees these days," she agreed. His quiet addendum brought her gaze back to his face, a soft sense of sympathy in her expression as she considered him. "I'm sorry for your loss," she murmured, her tone almost tender, knowing that there were some losses no words could ever express or make up for.
"Thanks," he replied, not really knowing what else to say. It had been a few years since she'd passed, and though he still missed her, he'd come to accept it. "What about you? You mentioned your grandmother," he asked, curious about her own upbringing and reluctant to discuss his own.
Her soft smile made an appearance, a little bittersweet with nostalgia. "My parents died in a car crash, the day that I was born," she told him, knowing that this, at least, had not been in the file he'd read. "No siblings, just me, so my grandparents - my mother's parents - raised me themselves. Just as well I took a gap year, really, between college and uni; they died, naturally, within a few weeks of each other. My grandfather on December 2nd, my grandmother on December 24th. So I needed the gap year to settle their estate in the end."
"I'm sorry," he told her, his expression mirroring the sympathy he had seen on her face a moment before, sincere and compassionate. Though he was sorry for her loss, he was glad she'd had a presumably happy childhood. "I wasn't lying when I told you I was a military brat. My dad was in the service, so we moved around a lot. No siblings either. Mom called me her miracle child. When Dad retired, they moved to Boston. Mom died of cancer a few years ago. Dad's not well. I moved him to a facility here when I took the job at the CIA. First time I've ever really settled anywhere." There was a smile on his face when he told her the story, but it was tinged with sadness. Still, things could have been a lot worse.
They both seemed to view their losses with the same feelings - that sense of gratitude for the time they had been able to share with the families who had loved them, and the bittersweet knowledge of their loss. The intelligence services always had a place for orphans, after all. "Is your father still living?" she asked him softly, curious but not prepared to push him on this point.
"Yeah," AJ replied, that soft smile tinged with sadness. "He's a stubborn old buzzard. It'll take more than that to finish the old man off," he told her with a wry chuckle. "Maybe I'll take you to meet him sometime. He'd love you."
Her smile sweetened, glad to see him brighten as he spoke of his father. "Maybe," she agreed with a nod. "I'm sure he would appreciate the change in routine a little, at least. And since my accent is so adorable, you may end up with a little competition if he proves to be as charming as you."
"Oh, he'll do his best to charm you. You should see him with the nurses." AJ chuckled again at the thought of that. "But he really misses Mom. We both do," he added, as an afterthought. As much as his father might flirt with the nurses, he was still married to AJ's mother, in every sense of the word.
"Of course you do," she nodded, gently touching his hand. "But you have the memories, and that makes all the difference." She smiled, sipping from her mug. "So how did you end up in the CIA, if you started in the military?"
He mirrored her smile, touched by her compassion, and not failing to notice that they had more than a few things in common. "Oh, that." He chuckled at her question. "I could ask you the same thing." Though she hadn't started in the military, he often wondered how a nice girl like her ended up with MI6.
She laughed at the way he parried the question, rolling her eyes. "Oh, I was a first class student at Oxford," she shrugged. "In the words of the captain who headhunted me ... there aren't many pretty girls who also study Mathematics and Linguistics and gain a first class honors degree in both. He put a lot of emphasis on pretty. MI6 hired me straight from university, trained me specifically for code-breaking and as a swallow. They've given me other training over the years, of course, but they do like to send the girls out to be whores for their country, rather than let us pick up a gun and prove we can use it."
He frowned, scowled even, at the way she'd worded that. He didn't like to think of her that way, even if she'd used her womanly wiles to charm him in Paris and seduce him out of the information he'd gone there to obtain. "You don't have to do that here," he assured her. And if they asked her to, well, he'd just have something to say about that.
"I hope not," she said quietly. "I don't like doing it. Oh, I know there are some who enjoy the challenge, but ... well, you recall I told you that I got my first partner killed?" She looked down into her cup. "Truth is, he was my handler, and he dropped the ball first, though I never told anyone he did. My target worked out who I was; he might even have been expecting me, and he played along. John told me that he thought something was up, but he didn't pull me out when he should have. I was ... badly beaten, left for dead, and when John found me, they attacked him, too. We got away in a stolen car, but they managed to drive us off the wharf and into the river. I got out of the car. John didn't." She sighed softly, still staring at her tea. "Every time I go undercover, I'm afraid. Always aware of what could go wrong, and what the consequences for me will be. I felt safe with you. I feel safe with you. That isn't something to be sniffed at."
AJ put down his mug and reached for her hand, taking it between both his own, even as she stared into her mug. He wasn't sure why she'd felt safe with him. He'd been livid when he'd found out what she'd done, but though he was ex-military, he was a CIA agent, not an assassin, and in the end, they'd found themselves on the same side. He'd suffered his own share of deaths, tragedies, and failures. He'd accepted the risks that went along with the job, but he didn't want those same risks for her, and he found himself reaching a decision right there on the spot. "You'd be a fool not to be afraid, Meg, but I promise, I'm gonna do everything in my power to make sure nothing bad happens to you." Maybe her ex-handler had made that same promise, but he still felt compelled to make it. "Look, I-I'm sorry about Spetses," he said, apologizing for something she'd probably already forgotten. "I know I got a little carried away. I'm sorry if I took advantage."
He might have been surprised to note that no one had ever made that promise to her. The bare facts of their job meant that life was short and ugly and often brutal, and no one had ever tried to shield her from it, even when she was a new agent. Her hand turned beneath his, slender fingers sliding between his own as she murmured a soft thank you for that promise. His apology, however ... that confused her a little. She remembered all right, but probably not for the same reasons he did. "You have nothing to apologize for, Andrew," she promised him. "You did the best you could in a situation neither of us had any control over. Without you, I would have been wound too tightly to be of any use at all."
"No, I got a little too carried away with the whole being married thing. Maybe I was trying to pay you back for Paris. I don't know. I won't lie and tell you I wasn't enjoying myself because I was, but I shouldn't have taken advantage, and for that, I'm sorry," he repeated, even if she didn't seem to find that apology necessary. He'd enjoyed Paris, too - at least, until he'd realized she'd only been playing him. For a man who was ex-military and possessed a license to kill, he seemed almost gentlemanly - perhaps something taught him by his mother.
"Andrew." Setting her cup down, she did the only thing that might possibly stop this rambling apology in its tracks. Taking his face in her hands, she kissed him ... just a simple, soft kiss to still his lips. "Stop," she told him. "We've both made mistakes, and we've both blurred the lines. Dwelling on that won't change the fact that it has happened, or that we need to move on from those mistakes. For what it's worth, I forgive you for what you perceive to be your failings. I hope it's enough to help you let them go."
He raised his brows, a little surprised by that kiss, which only served to confuse him further. She'd said something about feeling safe with him, about liking him, about volunteering for this position because of him, but what did that mean exactly? Were they blurring the lines, or was it something more than that? "Meg, I ..."
Whatever it was he was about to say was cut off by the sound of a rap at the door. Apparently, dinner had arrived, and while they were both had to eat, AJ inwardly cursed the delivery man's bad timing.
She jumped at the sound of the knock, laughing a little as she lowered her hands. "Perfect timing," she smiled to AJ, rising to reach for her purse automatically.
He smiled, having enjoyed that kiss, perhaps more than the others they'd shared because this one had been real. He reached for her hand to draw her back. "I said dinner's on me, remember?" he reminded her as he moved to his feet. Not on him, literally but he had promised he'd pay for it anyway.
She blushed, laughing a little at her automatic reaction to the knock. "Next time, it's on me," she countered, picking up the tray to make space on the coffee table for whatever it was he had ordered.
If the smell was anything to go by, it might not be the healthiest meal in the world, but she could be sure it would be tasty. AJ exchanged cash for a couple of paper bags before closing the door, dinner in hand. "Best Chinese in DC," he proclaimed as he made his way back into the living room. "You want to eat here or ...?" he asked, uncertainly. It was either the coffee table or the counter.
"Coffee table," she answered the uncertain question with a low chuckle. "Unless you have some objection to sitting on the floor with me?" Though it had been a means to stop him from berating himself over something she didn't even consider a mistake, that kiss seemed to have buoyed up her spirits. "Do we need anything apart from plates?"
"Not unless you need a fork and knife," he replied with a grin. Apparently, he'd asked for chopsticks. Even if she didn't know how to use them, it would be fun teaching her. It seemed something had lessened the tension between them, at least for the moment, but he wasn't sure if it had been the kiss or the apology. Or maybe it was just the fact that they'd been interrupted by their mutual need for food.
"Challenge accepted, Junior," she laughed back at him, leaving the tray in the kitchen to join him at the coffee table once again. "My grandpops used to call me Mac, if that helps at all," she added, aware that she should even up the balance with that little bit of information. "Nana hated it, but she never stopped him."
"Why Mac?" he asked, unsure how that nickname had any connection with her real name at all. He pulled out several paper boxes from the bags, as well as a chopsticks and napkins and spread it all out on the coffee table, as though it were a dining table, before taking a seat on the floor, legs crossed - because sitting on one's knees wasn't very comfortable after a while.
"My initials," she clarified for him, easing down onto the floor to sit comfortably with him, unconsciously leaning toward the bag and the delicious smells emanating from within. "That does smell good."
"Oh, right," he replied, chuckling a little to himself. "Well, I promise not to call you Mac, if you don't call me Junior," he told her, as he opened one of the boxes and used his chop sticks to fish out an egg roll and set it on her plate. He'd obviously had a lot of practice at this.
"I can't promise never to call you Junior, but I will endeavor not to do it in front of your friends and colleagues," she offered by way of a compromise, slender fingers breaking open her own chopsticks to settle them in her grip. Patience was not one of her virtues when it came to food, but she made an effort, waiting a little like an errant child to be served, all the while clicking the chopsticks together.
"Patience, Grasshopper," he chided her with a chuckle, as he pried open the other two boxes - one was Lo Mein, because you just couldn't have Chinese without having some noodles, and the other was Sesame Chicken.
"What? I'm being patient," she protested laughingly, although having had it pointed out, she was now rocking excitedly as well. It wasn't so much the food as the prospect of a meal in company - his company - but she had always been a little childlike when it came to eating dinner. It was certainly an interesting contrast with the cool, collected adult she pretended to be on a daily basis.
"By the way, you don't eat Chinese because it's healthy; you eat it because it tastes good," he informed her with a grin as he filled her plate full of chicken and noodle goodness, with an egg roll or two on the side. It was probably enough to give one a stomachache, but at least their mouths would be happy.
Meg didn't quite manage to prevent the giggle from escaping - that was her natural laugh, far more youthful than the carefully constructed laughter she allowed out in public. "Remind me to subject you to an English takeaway at some point," she informed him. "It'll horrify you."
"Are we talking fish and chips wrapped in newspaper?" he asked, curiously, a hint of playful humor in his eyes. "Because I've already had that." Once her plate was full, he went about filling his own, taking up an egg roll on his chopsticks to take a bite.
"Oh, no, I'm talking ... curry with oil floating on it, or a doner kebab!" She grinned at him cheerfully, taking his nibbling as a sign that she was allowed to eat. "I think I would pay to watch you eat a doner."
"With a name like that, you might have to," he replied with a grin. Never let it be said that AJ Doyle wasn't at least a little adventurous when it came to food, though he'd never heard of that dish.
She giggled again, this time around a mouthful of egg roll. "Where's your sense of adventure?" she teased, groaning happily around her mouthful. "I should learn how to make this ... or just install a revolving door in the nearest takeaway place."
"I've never managed to master Chinese. There's no point really, when it's so cheap and readily available with just a phone call," he explained while he expertly gathered up some of the Lo Mein and guided it to his mouth, slurping up the noodles with a mischievous grin. There was really no other way to eat them, unless you wanted to cut them up, but where was the fun in that?
The art of conversation definitely suffered when it came to eating. Meg was somewhat focused on her food, displaying an interesting determination with the chopsticks if no actual skill with them. Occasionally she asked about the food, wanting to memorize this particular order, but she was mostly concentrated on putting away enough food to sink a tanker.
There was no doubt that the conversation lagged a little while the two of them made short work of the take-out, all of it washed down by the tea. There was nothing for dessert, except fortune cookies, but after a carb-laden meal like that, it wasn't really needed. "Pick one," he said, holding out a handful of the things, palm upwards.
Wiping her mouth clean, Meg considered the handful for a moment before picking a cookie out of his grasp. "You know, I have a weird track record with these things," she warned him. "They are always true, one way or another."
"Of course, they are. That's why they're fortune cookies. I have a theory about them. I think they just put fortunes in there that could apply to anyone. It's just a matter of interpretation. You don't really think a cookie can tell your fortune, do you?" he teased, that amused gleam in his eyes, as he picked one for himself and set the others aside. "Go ahead. Ladies, first," he invited her with a nod of his head.
"My, my, what a gentleman," she teased him fondly. "I did warn you." With a crack, she opened up her cookie, pulling the little strip of paper from inside to scan the words written on it. There was a moment's pause, and her face lit up in a bright blush, her expression twisting into an embarrassed smile. "Oh, good grief ..."
"That bad, huh?" he asked with a chuckle. He knew how silly fortune cookies could be, and even embarrassing if one hit the right nerve. He wasn't budging though. He wasn't opening his, until she shared. "Come on. It can't be that bad."
Hiding her eyes with one hand, she passed the fortune over to him, dissolving into embarrassed giggles. On the paper was the legend ... The love of your life is sitting across from you. Silly, perhaps, but it had definitely struck a nerve.
He reached for the slip of paper, brows arching upwards at her reaction before he turned his gaze to read the words written there. Chuckling, he handed it back. "I won't argue with that," he told her before cracking open the cookie he'd chosen and skimming the words with a thoughtful, "Hmmm ..."
Surfacing from her embarrassed giggles, rescued from being completely humiliated by his positive response to the fortune, Meg tilted her head, eying him as he skimmed his own. "Hmmm?"
"Can't really argue with this one either," he said, as he handed her his own fortune, which read: Use your talents. It's what they were intended for. Once again, that was open to interpretation, and he couldn't help smirking as he wondered how she'd interpret it.
Cue another blush as she skimmed that fortune. "I think my mind has descended to the gutter," she attempted to excuse herself, only to lose any hope of dignity when she looked up into his smirk. "You're doing that on purpose!"
"Doing what?" he asked, laughing. "It's not like I knew what they'd say!" he pointed out, in his own defense. "Do you want to try again?" he asked, as there were a couple more to choose from. Whoever had been filling his order had added a small handful.
"Smirking in that infuriatingly tempting way you have," she informed him, picking another fortune from the collection. "Don't pretend you don't know you're doing it, you know you're a handsome man." Giggling once again, she opened up the second cookie, unfurling the fortune. "Oh, this one should have been yours," she said, reading it aloud. "You can open doors with your charm and patience."
That got an uproarious laugh out of him. Whether he knew he was handsome or not, it amused him to no end to hear her accuse him of it, like it was a crime. "My ego thanks you. By the way, did you notice the line of women waiting to get a date with me?" he asked, with obvious sarcasm. There was no line of women, and he hadn't asked anyone on a date in a very long time. "Charm, maybe. Patience? Not so much," he replied with that smirk of his as he picked up another cookie and broke it in half. "Hmm," he said again. "And maybe this one should be yours," he added, reading it aloud, as well. "Open your mind and heart to good things."
"It's good advice," she conceded. "And as for that line of women? Darling, if they make a move, they'll have to contend with me. I may not look it, but I can be very protective of a good thing."
He smiled, though he still wasn't quite sure what was going on between them. Were they moving toward a serious relationship, or was this just a little harmless flirtation? Still, she claimed to have volunteered to come here just because of him. That had to count for something. "Can I ask you something?"
"Of course you can," she assured him, chewing half a fortune cookie as she reached to drink the last of her tea. This version of her was a far cry from the staid agent, and yet it was clearly the way she was most relaxed. This was Meg Miller, and if she was very lucky, he would stop hoping to see Sarah and Sophie in her mannerisms soon.
To be fair, he hadn't even thought about Sarah or Sophie. Though he'd liked them and recognized at least a part of them in her, this was the real Meg, and the woman he really wanted to get to know better. "Why'd you really come here? I mean, I know you said we were blurring the lines and that you came here because of me ... but what do you mean by that exactly?"
She was silent for a long moment, considering her answer, but the words that came out were blurted and unstudied. "Sparks," she said, embarrassed by her own turn of phrase. "I ... with you, I felt, I feel, sparks. And ... well, I stopped seeing Jake almost as soon as we landed in Greece. I saw you, and I reacted to you - me reacting, not Sophie, not a character I was playing - I responded to you, to the man I ... well, the man I fancy like crazy, a man who interests me and intrigues me, a man who makes me feel safe in his company, and believe me, that isn't normal for me, I'm generally frightened at some level of just about any man I come across, but I never felt afraid of you, and I'm babbling and probably making this worse, so I'm going to shut up now."
To his credit, he gave her his full attention while she explained her feelings and her motivations for volunteering for the position at Langley, but he had yet to reveal his own feelings, other than that of flattered. He had admitted that he liked her, too, but it was a pretty vague statement that could mean anything from friendship to romance. "You're not babbling. If I didn't want to know, I wouldn't have asked, and if I didn't want to get to know you better, I wouldn't have asked you to dinner, which I still owe you, by the way because this doesn't count," he said, gesturing to what was left of the take-out. Now who was babbling?
"This doesn't count?" There was a moment when she misunderstood, hurt disappointment flashing across her eyes before she realized what he meant. "Oh! Oh, of course. Well, I owe you a takeaway and a dinner, then," she rushed to cover her mistake. There was a long pause before she finally added, "You might have noticed that I am not particularly good at doing this."
"You don't owe me a damned thing, Meg," AJ pointed out, with a small sigh. "You want to know the truth?" What a stupid question. Of course, she did! "I liked Sarah, but she was a bit of a ditz. I liked Sophie, too, but she was too ... I don't know ... Flighty?" he said, for lack of a better word. "It's Meg I want to get to know better, but I was pretty sure I blew any chance of that in Spetses. I know I was blurring the lines, too, but it wasn't because I was falling for Sarah or Sophie. It was because of you."
"You never blew your chance," she told him softly. "I thought you were disgusted by my lack of professionalism. It wasn't the character who kissed you when you said we could leave Spetses, Andrew. It was me. And it wasn't Sarah you took to bed ... aside from the accent, that was me. I've said this before, but I don't think you've been paying much attention when I've said it. There are things you cannot fake. Ever."
He was heartened by her answer, reaching across the table to tangle his fingers with hers, but now that they seemed to understand each other, it posed another problem. "Okay, so, the real question is ... What do we do now?"
"I-I don't know," she admitted, curling her fingers between his as he reached for her. "I want more. I want to be with you, Andrew, but ... I don't know if being physical would make things any less confusing. I, um, I haven't slept with anyone who wanted me, wanted Meg, for more than a decade and ... it isn't that I don't trust you. I'm afraid of being that vulnerable. Would ... would it be awful of me to ask if we could postpone anything above a PG-13 rating for a while? Until we know each other better?"
Well, that meant he wasn't going to get laid tonight, but he found he could live with that. In fact, he was surprised to find he didn't mind so much at all. If she meant anything to him at all, he needed to be - like the fortune cookie had warned - patient. "My mother once told me that good things come to those who wait. I wasn't sure what that meant then, but I think I do now. I can be patient, Meg ... Just don't wait too long, okay?"
Her worried expression cleared into a faint smile. "I'm not going to leave you hanging for months on end," she promised him faithfully. "I just need a little more time, to know you and to teach you about me. That's all."
"What are we gonna do about work?" he asked further, accepting her answer without an argument. That was the real problem. If they'd met anywhere else, under any other circumstances, it wouldn't have been a problem. Though on the other hand, with them both being agents and on the same team, they understood each other's circumstances like no one else might in the private sector.
Work. That presented a whole new load of problems. "I don't think this would interfere with work," she said thoughtfully. "I don't know about the CIA, but MI6 is pretty forgiving of relationships, so long as they don't interfere with missions and projects. I-I suppose it all depends on when we decide this is an official relationship. Until then, there's no need for anyone at work to know. Is there?"
AJ shrugged, unsure how a serious relationship might be perceived at work, though it seemed irrelevant until they actually agreed to be in a serious relationship, but how did one decide that? Didn't it just happen? Wasn't it happening already? "I suppose," he replied, uncertainly. Either way, he'd already made another decision, but one he was reluctant to share.
"I've never done this," she confessed quietly. "I don't know how it works. I ... I need you to tell me what to do here, Andrew. I have virtually no experience of being in a relationship of my own."
"You think I do?" he countered. "I mean, I haven't had a steady girlfriend since college." And that had obviously not lasted. Being in the military had been the biggest deterrent to that. That, and they'd both realized neither of them had wanted to get married yet.
"Oh." She had assumed he wasn't a stranger to this, but evidently her assumption had been wrong. "Well, then, we're both going to make a lot of mistakes together, aren't we?" she conceded, squeezing his hand as she smiled. "Don't leave every decision up to me. That just isn't fair."
"Have you noticed that we have a lot in common?" he asked, as he moved to his feet to gather the plates and empty containers and help her clean up. As much as he'd prefer to be lazy, he didn't expect her to wait on him hand and foot.
"Oh, you have a liking for Tuaca as well, do you?" she asked innocently, rising with him to gather up the containers and napkins. "I am surprised, not many men like it. Come to think of it, not many people have ever tasted it." Her shoulder nudged his as she grinned, heading to the kitchen and the trashcan with her share of the mess.
"Tuaca?" he echoed, uncertainly. "Is that the sound you make as you gag on it?" he teased. The word sort of sounded like Chewbacca, but that wasn't something you ate.
"It's my favorite alcoholic drink," she laughed, dumping her handful of trash into the bin and opening up the countertop dishwasher she had gone out of her way to find when she'd moved in. "It's like brandy, but flavored with vanilla and orange. It's lovely."
"Good lord. Sounds like an alcoholic version of a creamsicle," he said, with a look on his face that told her he found the thought of that disgusting. "Takes all the fun out of getting drunk. Alcohol isn't supposed to taste like candy, Meg. If it doesn't burn on the way down, it's not booze."
"If it makes you throw up before you even manage to swallow, then it's hardly suitable for consumption, is it?" she countered, laughing at this difference between them. But then, there had to be some differences, and a distaste for one another's favorite tipple wasn't insurmountable. "I will have to make you try some, sometime. You can't express an opinion without tasting it, I refuse to allow it."
"Are you going to return the favor on that one, Agent Miller?" he asked, a teasing grin on his face. He hadn't mentioned what his favorite form of alcohol was, but she could be sure it wasn't going to be anything he considered "girly". He scraped his plate into the garbage and set his plate and cup on the cupboard. "So, what do you like to do for fun?" Besides the obvious choice of a roll in the hay.
"Naturally, I give as good as I get," she allowed laughingly, taking his plate and cup to set them in the dishwasher along with her own. It was nowhere near a full load, so she closed it up without starting it, and turned to start putting the coffee on. His query made her giggle quietly. "I, um ... I like board games," she admitted. "And video games. Just games in general, it seems. Why, what do you like to do, Agent Doyle?"
"Board games?" he echoed, chuckling. "Like what? Monopoly? Checkers? Poker?" Poker wasn't really a board game though. It was cards, which was different. "Oh, I know. Ever try a Ouija board?" And there was that teasing grin again.
She laughed at his teasing, switching the coffee pot on before turning back to him. "Yes, all of those," she said. "Card games are fun, too. A ..." She snorted with laughter as he teased her with his last suggestion. "Are you suggesting we try to contact the spirits of the dead in an attempt to get to know each other? I must warn you, I am terrible to watch horror movies with. I scream. A lot."
"You scream in the bedroom, too, as I recall," he teased further, though he wasn't too sure if that had been all her or part of the act, despite what she'd told him about not faking it. "And I'm not suggesting anything. I will have you know I'm a pretty mean card player, though," he warned, waggling his brows.
Given the way she blushed, that had not been a part of the act. She rallied, though, raising a hand to poke him in the chest. "Oh, really? Care to prove that, or are you all mouth and no trousers?"
He laughed at her comeback, the poke hardly making so much as a dent. He was in good shape, after all, as she should well have noticed. "I'm just warning you in advance. Of course, if you prefer a game of checkers, we can do that instead."
"Oh, no, you're the one who started boasting about being good at cards," she chuckled. "Cards it is." The kitchen was a pretty narrow space, so sliding past him was all kinds of interesting. "Any particular game in mind, darling?"
"Is there any other game but Poker?" he replied with a grin. Well, what did she expect him to say? Gin Rummy? "Question is, what do we want to bet with? Or is this just going to be a friendly game with no stakes?"
"Isn't there a way to play friendly with stakes?" she asked innocently. "Unless, of course, you're backpedaling because you think you're going to lose." She flashed him a grin, slipping past to seek out a pack of cards from a drawer.
He chuckled at the implied dare in her voice. "Is that a challenge, Agent?" he asked, grinning down at her from his height. Far be it for him to decline a challenge or a dare. All things considered, it didn't seem to matter whether he won or lost this game, though that depended on the stakes.
"Do you know, I rather think it is," she answered sweetly, surfacing from her bend with a pack of cards in her hand. "Are we playing with stakes, or not? I'm going to make you decide that. It's only polite, you are my guest, after all."
"I don't think there's much point in playing if we're not playing for stakes. Name it," he told her, unsure if she wanted to play for money, clothes, or booze. He was game for any of those, though he was biased toward strip poker, considering the company.
She narrowed her eyes, laughing as she got comfortable on the floor again. "How about ... whatever comes to mind?" she suggested impishly. "Could be information, could be a drink. Whatever you feel like putting out there."
"Information?" he echoed, narrowing his eyes suspiciously. "What kind of information?" he wondered aloud. This kind of game begged for booze, but he supposed they'd have to make do with coffee, once it was ready anyway. In the meantime, he followed her back to the coffee table and took a seat on the floor across from her.
Well, she had mentioned drinks. Setting the cards down, she stood up as he sat down, moving to open up a cupboard and produce a bottle of whiskey, and a bottle of Tuaca. "Well, we don't know everything about each other, do we?" she pointed out, setting the bottles down on the coffee table and wandering into the kitchen to produce beer from the fridge and a couple of glasses. Alcohol would help, she had a feeling. "For example, I might stake an embarrassing story about myself. Then, if you win, I have to tell you, no matter how embarrassing it is."
"I thought you didn't have any Chewbacca on hand," he teased, purposely mistaking the name for Tuaca. Whiskey and beer were more to his liking, but he was a little surprised she was suddenly producing booze ... unless she was as nervous as he was. "It might be easier to just take off your pants," he remarked with a grin.
"I never said I didn't," she chuckled, and abruptly laughed her giggly laugh far louder than before, dropping down to sit at the coffee table with him again. "PG-13, remember? Unless you manage to get me so drunk I forget my own rules." She winked at him, pouring a measure of Tuaca into one of the glasses. "You deal."
"What fun is that?" he grumbled, frowning before he sighed in resignation. "Your house, your rules," he agreed as he reached for the cards. Once he started shuffling, it became apparent he'd had plenty of practice, shuffling and cutting and showing off just a little. "What are we playing here?" he asked, needing to know that before he started dealing.
"Five card stud," she told him without a second thought. It was the only variation of poker she was in any way familiar with, though he didn't need to know that just yet. If ever. "Otherwise we'll spend hours betting."
"You gonna bet me a Tuaca and raise me a shot of whiskey?" he teased, as he started dealing the cards, one by one, five to each of them. He wasn't too worried. After all, she'd supposedly read his dossier, and he'd thus far managed to dodge most of her more private questions. What more could she possibly ask? His favorite color?
"Well, obviously, that would be my first stake," she laughed, collecting her cards when the deal was over. "I did say I would make you taste it. Only then do you get to have an opinion on it."
"It sounds disgusting," he told her as he picked up his own cards and fanned them out in his hand, his expression giving no hint at whether he was holding a good or bad hand.
"Don't be a child," she laughed at him. "Right, well, that's my stake. Making you try my favorite drink, because you're being such a baby about the whole idea of it."
"Fine, I'll raise you a shot of whiskey. It's good for you. It'll put hair on your chest," he countered with a grin.
"I thought you liked my chest the way it is," she teased, discarding one card and drawing another, arranging her cards in her hand as she considered them. "Or does Agent Doyle have a fetish for hairy nipples?"
"You want to know about my fetishes, you'll have to find out the hard way." He said, chuckling as he traded in three cards for new ones. Either he was bluffing or his original hand sucked. Then again, the stakes weren't all that high. "You're up, Agent Miller."
"I have a horrible feeling I'm going to be sprouting hairy nipples," she laughed, laying her cards down. "One pair, nothing special there. Your turn, show off."
"You're calling, then," he said, clicking his tongue at her. "Coward." He laid his cards down - a pair of threes and a pair of kings. "Read 'em and weep," he told her with a grin. Two pairs obviously beating one. It was her turn to pay up.
"Bugger," was her heartfelt response, but she poured out a shot of whiskey and downed it in one, grimacing at the burn down her throat. "Ugh, that's revolting. New deal."
He chuckled at her reaction to the whiskey and handed her the cards. "Your deal, Mac," he teased, calling her by her grandfather's nickname for her.
"Hang on," she laughed, downing a shot of Tuaca to complete her loss. "Oh, much better. Okay." Shuffling the deck, she stuck her tongue out at him for using that nickname, and dealt out the hand, setting the deck down to take up her cards.
He picked up his cards and spread them out in his hand, his expression once again not revealing whether he had a good hand or a bad one. "Hmm ..." he murmured as he considered his bet. Information or more booze? Getting her drunk was tempting, but would eventually result in him tucking her into bed, and he wasn't sure he was ready for that yet. "First kiss," he decided.
"The story of, or a recreation of?" she asked for clarity, considering her hand.
"We've shared more than one already, so what do you think?" he replied with a grin.
"Fair enough." Meg smiled to herself. She did not have the world's best poker face, and thanks to two shots, she could already feel she was a little tiddly. "I'm going to raise you that shot of Tuaca. You will taste it."
"Only if I lose," he replied, setting down three cards and tapping them with a fingertip, indicating he wanted three more in exchange. So, from the looks of things, he was holding two decent cards. A pair again, maybe?
She dealt him three more cards with a chuckle, discarding two of her own to take two more. "You're awfully cocky, you know," she teased him, running a hand through her hair as she looked at her new hand.
He glanced at his cards, noting the way she'd run a hand through her hair. Was that some kind of tell? Everyone had a tell, but whether it was a sign of a good hand or a bad one, he wasn't sure yet. "I'm gonna call it," he said, obviously not too confident about his cards, but not willing to merely fold.
"So will I ... two pair, lovely," she informed him, laying down her cards with a grin. Two queens, two nines, and a superfluous Ace. Not a terrible hand, like last time.
"Damn it," he muttered as he laid down his cards to reveal a pair of fours. His gut instinct had told him to fold, but his one flaw in Poker and possibly in life was that he wasn't a quitter, even when the odds were stacked against him. "Hand me the girly booze," he said, holding out a hand.
Clapping her hands as she crowded delightedly, he got a brief glimpse of Meg's victory dance before she poured him a shot of the Tuaca. "Don't forget the first kiss story, too," she reminded him cheerfully, handing over the glass before collecting the cards to shuffle them once again.
He sighed. "Really?" he muttered at the reminder, wanting to kick himself for that bet. He'd wanted to hear about her first kiss, not tell her about his. He sniffed suspiciously at the Tuaca, which smelled about as sweet as it looked. "Down the hatch," he said, before tossing it back, despite the fact that the stuff seemed more for sipping than shooting. He winced and practically shivered at the sweetness of it. "Christ, it's like drinking pure sugar."
She giggled at his reaction to her favorite drink. "See, now you're allowed to have an opinion," she informed him, resting her chin on her hands in an attitude of absolute enthrallment. "Story time!"
He made a face again, finding the stuff too sweet, though it did seem to have a bit of a kick. It would take a lot more than one shot to get him tipsy, though. "Ok, fine," he agreed reluctantly. "Playground. 19, er, 80-something or other. Susie Smith, the hottest girl in kindergarten. All the boys had a huge crush on her, and some of the girls, too, but I'm the one who got the first kiss. Yep, right there on the merry-go-round. Smack! Couple of weeks later, we were moving again. Never did find out whatever happened to her, but she was my first crush, first kiss. Happy, now?"
"Aww, that's so sweet," she smiled, pushing the deck over to him. "Very happy, thank you. Your deal, Junior." And then she giggled, trying to imagine a very little AJ ambushing an equally little girl on the merry-go-round.
Hey, he never said it had to be their first real kiss. Just first kiss, and that one had been important enough to him to have stayed with him all these years. "She was cute. Blond, like you," he volunteered further, as he took up the deck and shuffled again. After a little shuffling, he dealt the next hand, five each.
"Well, apparently blondes have more fun," she grinned, taking up her new hand. "You suck at dealing decent hands, by the way." Was that a ruse, or a genuine insult?
"Uh huh. I could say the same for you. Did you see the one you dealt me?" he asked, arranging his cards, but making no claim at how good or bad his hand was. It was her turn to bet or not anyway.
"I dealt perfectly fine hands until you touched the deck," she insisted, giggling into a fresh glass of Tuaca. "All right, my bet ... hmm ..."
It really was amazing what they could get out of playing like this. By the end of two hours, they had managed to share a startling number of utterly trivial details about themselves, from the first real kiss to the greatest fears to the most embarrassing birthday; even a dare that involved putting an ice cube down her top and his pants on a draw. There was plenty of alcohol involved, too, which was how Meg ended up tipsy and a lot bolder than she had thought she was.
Studying the latest hand closely, she raised her eyes to AJ, a mischievous smirk on her face and said, "I bet ... my bra."
AJ had had his own fair shares of shots, both sweet and strong and was feeling a little fuzzy, but not nearly as tipsy as she was. They'd shared a few secrets, but nothing too earth-shattering. He didn't care much if she knew where he'd had his first kiss, that his favorite color was blue, or that he was secretly terrified of heights. His latest hand, too, wasn't much better than those that had preceded it, but it was all in good fun. He arched a brow over his cards at her latest bet, knowing it had to be the booze talking. "I thought clothes were off-limits and we're keeping this PG-13," he reminded her. The ice cubes had been pushing things a bit far, but it had been worth it to see her wriggle.
"It's underneath my clothes," she pointed out with an inebriated smile, her words ever so slightly slurred by now, every gesture that little bit too exaggerated. "And I can get it off without taking my t-shirt off. So there. Your bet." Her smile grew to a self-satisfied grin as she leaned back, needing to take another look at her hand just to make sure it hadn't changed while she wasn't looking.
"Well, I'm not wearing a bra, smart ass, so what am I supposed to do if I lose?" he pointed out, trying hard not to raise her bet to add panties. "I mean, if you want to take off your bra that badly, by all means, go ahead. You don't need to lose at Poker to do that."
"Take mine off, of course," she told him cheerfully. "From underneath." Drunk Meg was definitely more inclined toward silliness mixed with a healthy dose of lust, it seemed, but at least he didn't need to worry about her only wanting him for his body. She had laid down the rules while sober, after all; what happened while she was drunk was out of her control.
He rolled his eyes. "Honey, I could take your bra off without even going beneath your clothes, if I really wanted to." It was all about the technique, and she hadn't said anything about only using his hands. "Might I remind you that whether I win or lose this hand, those stakes have me winning either way?"
She giggled, nodding. "Uh-huh. You should raise me. Or you could fold, and then all you can do is watch. Maybe I could make you wear it instead."
"You're drunk." It wasn't an accusation, but a statement of fact. He'd lost count how many she'd had hours ago, but it was obviously enough to make her giggle and slur her words. Lucky for her, he wasn't the kind to take advantage. "Your bra is not a bet. How's this then? If you lose, you take off your bra. What do you want if you win?" He was giving her an opportunity here, if she chose to take advantage of it.
"I'm only a little bit drunk," she protested, though it was pretty obvious she was more than a little bit drunk. "So ... I have to think of something else?" she asked, scowling in concentration. "A kiss? Is that a bet?"
He rolled his eyes at her lack of imagination, but decided she was in no state of mind to push too far. "Fine. I lose, I give you a kiss. You lose, you take off your bra." It was silly, really. He'd already seen her without a bra, and she'd already had a kiss from him, but there was no point in arguing the fact with a drunk female. "I'm calling it right here. No raising. No trading cards. What have you got?"
"Lots!" she declared, laying down her hand. And it was true, she did have a lot of cards. Not one of them matched the others. It was, in actual fact, a truly terrible hand, and she really had no reason to be so proud of it.
He looked over her hand, realizing she'd lost, even with the ridiculously crappy hand he was holding. He laid down his cards - a pair of Aces, along with some other mismatched crap that amounted to nothing. "I win."
Letting out that delightfully drunken giggle once again, Meg pushed herself up onto her knees, more than happy to pay up. It did involve drawing rather more attention to her chest than she usually allowed, with all the thrusting and wriggling, but eventually her bra came out through one of the sleeves, and was immediately tossed over his face. "Ta-da!"
He laughed as he watched her wriggle out of her bra. Well, at least she'd accomplished it without toppling over backwards. That had to count for something. He laughed, catching her bra in one hand before it hit his face. He was obviously not nearly as tipsy as she was. "You're going to regret this tomorrow," he told her with a grin.
"You think so?" Settling onto her heels, she considered him for a long moment, rubbing her hand against her neck. "I guess I should make sure I really earn that regret then, don't you think?" A grin that might have been predatory if she hadn't been so tipsy made itself known on her face as she crawled up onto the coffee table, advancing on him.
Oh, boy. He realized that drunken Meg was a lot like her Sophie alias. That wasn't necessarily a bad thing, except that she'd been the one who'd said she wanted to go slow, and here she was practically throwing herself at him. "Meg, I'm not so sure this is a good idea," he told her, reaching for her to make sure she didn't lose her balance and fall off the table.
Heedless of the scatter of the cards, she slithered off the table to straddle his lap, nose to nose. This might be a lot like the Sophie alias, but it was all Meg, with no real filters attached. She nuzzled him tenderly, almost purring at how close they were. "I always have good ideas," she murmured, her lips brushing his. "My timing isn't always great, though."
His arms went around her as she climbed into his lap, nose to nose with her. Her lips tasted of a mixture of Tuaca and whiskey, but that hardly bothered him. It was the fact that she might regret this in the morning if he let it go too far. "Sweetheart, I want this as much as you do ..." he started. Probably more, if the way his body was reacting to her was anything to go by. "But is this really how you want this to happen?" There he was, trying to be a gentleman again. What the hell was wrong with him, anyway?
She pouted, but she wasn't so far gone that she couldn't follow the very real care in his gentle reminder of her own rules. "Maybe we should call it a night," she sighed softly, drawing her fingertips through his hair. "Kiss me? Please?"
He looked as full of regret as she was, but these were her rules - the rules she'd stated before they'd had too much to drink - and they still had to work in the morning. "I'll go you one better, and tuck you in," he promised, touching a soft kiss to her lips, before moving to his feet, with her in his arms. He supported her with his hands, winding her legs around his hips so that he could carry her toward the bed, just on the other side of the couch.
She nestled in close to him, laying her head on his shoulder as he lifted her up and bore her toward the bed, not really wanted to let go of him. "You smell so good," she murmured, more proof that a drunk Meg had no control over her own tongue. "You could sleep with me."
"I smell like booze and Chinese food," he pointed out. Never mind what kind of cologne he wore, if he wore any at all. She hadn't asked, and he hadn't volunteered the information. "I could," he replied as he laid her carefully down on the bed and pulled the blankets up over her. "But I'd rather you remember it when I do," he told her, touching a kiss to her cheek. "Get some sleep, Meg."
Her fingers stroked against his cheek as he laid her down, the alcohol already sending her off into happy sleepiness as she cuddled under the blankets. She was almost there when a worried thought made her half sit up. "I will see you tomorrow, won't I?"
"I'll come by in the morning to pick you up," he promised, though he thought it might be a good idea to take the car this time. "Night, Meg. Thanks for tonight," he told her, kissing her lips once final time before creeping away to turn down the lights and clean up the mess before he let himself out.
She smiled as he kissed her, relaxing back against the pillow with a happy sigh. "Good night, Andrew." Tomorrow's hangover might be hideous, but right now, in her drunk state, watching him move about her apartment as she succumbed to sleep, it was worth it. No regrets this time.
In the morning, he'd make sure she had coffee and aspirin to help with that hangover, but tomorrow, as they say, was another day. He only hoped that when morning came, she wouldn't regret what had happened tonight - and that was the main reason he wasn't staying the night. As for himself, he had no regrets - not a single one. Not even what had happened in Paris or Greece. If not for Paris and Greece, she might not be here right now, and for that he was thankful. As cliched as it sounded, maybe this really was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.